Preppie! (Adventure International)
"RUSS WETMORE: Prepped for Success"
Identifier Preppie_1982_Adventure_International_USScanner Internet Archive Python library 0.4.4Mediatype softwarePublicdate 2013-11-08 19:25:56Addeddate 2013-11-08 19:25:56Creator Russ WetmoreDate 1982Year 1982Emulator a800Emulator_ext atrEmulator_keybd a800-special
by Colin Covert
(Appeared in the September 1983 issue of "Electronic Games" Magazine)
Is Russ Wetmore a preppie? That's one of those logical-sounding questions that's actually just a bit dimwitted. After all, no one expects David (Serpentine) Snider to look like a snake, or for Michael (Cyborg) Berlyn to be a "Six Million Dollar Man." Nonetheless, it is a tad surprising to meet the 26-year old author of Preppie! and Preppie II! and not see a single one of those pesky alligators anywhere on his clothing. Why, Russ probably doesn't even have a spare lawnmower, golf cart or radioactive frog in the Daytona Beach, Fla., home he shares with diet technician Diana.
If Wetmore doesn't look like a card-carrying preppie, he resembles the typical designer of computer games even less. In a field in which battered jeans and a T-shirt is the favored uniform, Wetmore meets the public nattily attired in a conservative, understated business suit. "I like jeans as much as anyone," he insists as he nervously fingers his fashionably thin tie, "and I wear them all the time. But I'm determined to dispel the 'computer nerd image." He pauses, shuddering at the memory of a hundred cruel cartoons too many. "You know, the guys with the big pencil holders in their shirt pockets. When I meet businessmen or the media, I wear a suit because that's their expectation for someone they deal with as an equal."
Wetmore has been meeting a lot of people lately, too. Ever since Adventure International (Scott Adams) published Preppie!, the wry humor and diverting play-action of this disk for the Atari 400/800/1200 computer systems have made the soft-spoken Floridian an overnight electronic gaming star. Fame came quickly to Russ Wetmore once he turned professional as a game designer, but he's surely no newcomer to compouters. His dad, Art Wetmore, was one of the first to buy a TRS-80 Model I. "I saw it for the first time during Christmas break in 1977," Russ recalls. "I locked myself in a closet with the machine for a couple of days. When I came out, I was very interested.
Getting into the world of bits and bytes wasn't quite as easy back then, either. With nothing more than an instruction manual to guide him, Wetmore had to discover the highways and byways of computers pretty much on his own hook. "You know, at the time, I never thought I could exhaust the possibilites of 4K memory," says Wetmore. Wetmore seemed headed for anything but a career in computer game design after graduation from high school. He enrolled at Morehead State College, Morehead Ky., in 1977 to study musical composition. He had a strong leaning toward classical music at this time, though he had a more-than-passing interest in writing scores for Hollywood movies.
"I ran out of money," says Wetmore to explain why he decided to leave the campus after a little less than two years. "I needed a job, so I joined a publisher of educational music. He enjoyed working for the Lebanin, Ind., company, which produces music for junior and senior high schools, but eventually decided that the future probably wasn't in this phase of publishing.
Wetmore's life took a major turn toward computing when he finally bought a Model I of his very own in 1980. Almost immediately, he wrote four or five short BASIC programs, which a local Radio Shack owner sold locally. The big time beckoned in 1981 when Wetmore and his colleague, Phil Oliver, met Scott Adams at a computer show. Adams liked Russ' sense of humor and eventually offered him the post of author liason. Although he enjoyed his duties at Scott Adams Inc., Wetmore began to yearn for the chance to do some designing of his own instead of only working with the software creators. He decided to specialize in Atari programs, after seeing most of the other existing computers, because "it looked viable". Adams loaned him an Atari 800 against the payment of future royalties in order to help him get started. Talk about casting bread upon the waters! This example of generosity on the part of one of designing's living legends has allowed the company to reap huge rewards, since Russ lost no time justifying Adams' faith in his ability.
The idea of doing preppie! cropped up only after many others were discarded by Wetmore. "I thought about trying a pinball program, but it turned out to be a false start," he adds. It was Diana who suggested doing something a bit cartoonish. Since this dovetailed nicely with Russ' own activities, he followed her advice and came up with the basic idea of Preppie!. "I picked the subject because preppies were really hot at the time," says Wetmore. "Actually this game's a humorous poke at the whole preppie phenomenon."
To an extent, the highly successful format of Preppie! developed at least partly because of the capabilities of the hardware. "For example, the Atari computer is a horizontally oriented system," notes Wetmore, "so that helped determined the use of horizontal scrolling." Although Wetmore freely admits that programming Preppie! was a learning experience for him, he is proud of the fact that the game has a lot of the special touches that stamp a game as truly professional. He's particularly pleased by the lavish use of music in his programs. "It adds to much of the total experience," he asserts.